Monday, June 27, 2005

SCOTUS makes another dumb ruling

Just a brief blurb from The News Tribune and my response:

But in Monday's ruling, Souter said lower courts could find the file-sharing services responsible by examining factors such as how companies marketed the product or whether they took easily available steps to reduce infringing uses.

The simple way to enforce this ruling is to require entertainment companies (possibly through the RIAA and MPAA) to provide free, open source tools to help reduce infringement. After all, if the steps are "easily available," they should have no problem supplying them, and being open source, the P2P companies and knowledgeable programmers can make sure there is no hidden spyware crap before including them.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Some thoughts on the Eminent Domain decision

The Supreme Court just ruled that local governments can condemn private property in order to give it to other private parties. Well, patents, copyrights, and trademarks are all considered property, and if the government can confiscate property and hand it over to another private party, it shouldn't be restricted to real estate.

What's to stop the court from saying "Paramount, you've screwed public for the last time with Enterprise, we are now confiscating your Star Trek property and handing it over to Pixar." Or giving Linus Torvalds the Windows source code, under the argument that he could do a lot more good for the community than Bill Gates?

Frankly, I wish legislators would get smart and draft a Private Property amendment instead of worrying about flag burning.

An addendum:

I'm trying to think of *any* way to force this decision into something approaching sanity, but it's freaking difficult to figure out any way to keep the government honest.

The only thing I can imagine is requiring the government to come to you and say "Your land is worth $X," at which point you can either sell it to them for that price, or accept the (presumably) higher valuation of the land and pay higher taxes. In other words, your property is assessed at $250K, the government wants to condemn it to give to another private party, and offers you $300K. At that point, you can either accept the $300K offer, or your new assessed valuation is $300K.

This would somewhat lessen the chance that the government would bid too low -- you could simply pay the tax difference and keep the land -- and from taxing you off the land, since you could always accept any truly outrageous "offer."

This of course is imperfect, and probably has holes you could drive a Winnebago through, but at least it would prevent an artificially-low offer, and somewhat lessen the probability that the local government would condemn it for a low price and then turn around and sell it for a profit.


As an off-topic point, on the argument about private vs. public enterprise, I consider myself Libertarian, but my personal view is:

If private enterprise doesn't provide a necessary service, the govenment must provide it.

If a service is a private monopoly, the government can provide a non-subsidized, competitive alternative.

If a service is in a competitive market, the government should stay out of it.


There was a disagreement about whether or not the above was a Libertarian position on Fark, so here is my answer:

#1 *has* to be provided by the definition of "necessary service," and if private enterprise isn't providing it, then government has to.

#3 is fairly non-controversial, since most Libertarians agree that the government should stay out of competitive markets as much as possible.

Now on to #2, the one that might annoy other Libertarians. The reason that I include it is because I don't consider non-competitive markets to be free markets -- if a private company has a true monopoly on a necessary service, a person is not free to choose a competing service. Things like phone service and electricity are close to this in many parts of the country.

This is why I suggested that the government could provide a non-subsidized, competitive alternative if the service provided were wholly self-supporting, did not have an unfair advantage because of subsidies, and operated under the same laws and regulations as the original monopoly. If anything, the private company would have a huge competitive advantage, considering the rules and bureaucracy inherent in a government-run agency.

So in this specific case I fall on the side of competitive markets over government non-interference. If the market were to mature and become competitive, then the government should get out of it. Many people of course disagree, but hey...

The importance of being English

...just kidding, though I would definitely argue that it is important to *speak* English in the United States. I made this fairly uncontroversial (I thought) observation with the following paragraph:

Which is one reason why, as annoying as it might be for Mexican immigrants, it really is important to have one basic language that everyone in the community can understand. By default, that language in the U.S. is American English.

Strangely enough, this was questioned on Libertarian grounds, to which I responded:

Is it the libertarian position that the government must provide services in every possible language? If not, what would be the cutoff? IMO, the property of "limited government" would suggest the smaller the number of necessary languages (for things like Constitutions, laws, legal forms, ballots, etc), the better. I didn't suggest that people should *only* use English (or whatever the primary language of a country is), or that shopkeepers and private citizens should be forced to use it, only that it is important that citizens should be able to communicate with the government, which requires a language understandable by everyone.

If you disagree, I'd be interested in how many different languages you feel the U.S. should use in government communication. If this number is greater than one, please show how supporting multiple languages would be an example of "limited government."

Saturday, June 04, 2005

It's just a freaking book

With all the stories about "flushing" the Koran, I feel close to screaming. It's a freaking book. A bunch of paper pages with ink scribbles on them. It's one thing if you rip it out of the hands of a believer to "desecrate" it, it's quite another to do so with a copy you own. I'd rather have someone flush their own Koran or burn their own Bible than have them do the same to the trashiest novel someone else has.

Which brings me to this point: If the guards flushed a Koran (and if so, I want that toilet -- it would be better than the low-flow one I have now), it is no big deal (other than telling them to knock it off) if they bought it from If they grabbed it from the prisoner and flushed it, then that's a different story. I don't go wild and start hunting Muslims because some kook rams a plane into a skyscraper, why in the hell should they start hunting Americans because some moron flushed a Koran?

An addendum: This is the story that refuses to die, so I've decided to write some more (originally posted on Fark).

We really should pay more attention to Muslim sensitivities. Those of us in the more mature parts of the world need to remember the Middle East is inhabited by people who throw childish temper-tantrums if they think someone is making fun of them. One of these days they will grow up to be valuable members of society, but until then we need to do our best to make sure we don't hurt their feelings.

/Sarcasm off.

This was a book they abused, not a person. Just like I don't riot in the streets every time some guy in the Middle East burns an awful cartoon of an American flag, I expect adults in the Middle East not to riot because someone might have done something to a bunch of scribbles on a piece of paper (I'm deliberately being "insensitive" here).

The thing is, I know the vast majority of Muslims aren't going to riot because of something stupid like this. I would guess most of them think that attacking innocent people and burning things is a tad overreacting. Unfortunately, they don't appear to be willing to stand up and tell the nutcases in their midsts that they are acting like spoiled children. I don't doubt that it's real fear on their part, but that doesn't mean I have to sugarcoat what I say just because some fanatic might get upset.

The Koran is just a book. So is the Bible. A person has more inherent worth than either. If you hurt someone because they damaged a thing, then you deserve to be locked away from society. If Allah wants to punish blasphemy, let him, but if someone takes it upon themselves to do so, my personal beliefs force me to taunt them unmercifully.